Climate Check: Arizona
What SB 1070 means to people living in the Grand Canyon State
According to SB 1070, you can prove you're not an undocumented immigrant in our neighboring state with: an Arizona I.D., a tribal enrollment card or an I.D. from an government entity that checks immigration status. Since New Mexico gives driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, ours might not count.
“There are lot of people from Mexico who travel here. If I was from Mexico, I would not come to Arizona because there's the hostility."
Stephen Lemons, Phoenix New Times
If intense immigration enforcement is distressing to travelers passing through that desert landscape with its saguaro cacti, just imagine the anxiety on the horizon for the those in Arizona who will live with this law year-round. But there's another big "if" looming here. All of this becomes a concern only if the measure manages to go into effect at the end of July. National civil rights organizations announced a federal lawsuit on constitutional grounds on Monday, May 17. The big guns in the fight include: The American Civil Liberties Union; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; the National Immigration Law Center; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the National Day Laborer Organizing Network; and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
The loss of immigrant workers could have a tremendous effect on the state's economy. At the top of SB 1070, lawmakers included this language: “The legislature declares that the intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.” Those three words, “attrition through enforcement,” make up a catchphrase of the the right-wing Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Lemons points out. It essentially means, "make life so uncomfortable to immigrant population here that they'll leave." The state is home to an estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants. Talk about economic impact.
Training law enforcement and hiring additional law enforcement will also cost money. Add on the cost of defending the state against lawsuits filed by citizens or by anti-immigration groups trying to ensure enforcement—the price tag could be pretty steep for SB 1070. It's not as though Arizona has escaped the budget crises plaguing the rest of the country. The pinch has Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 into law, calling for a one-cent sales tax increase. "The state has no money," Lemons says. "Travel up and down the state; the rest stops are closed. That's not good for tourism. There are lot of people from Mexico who travel here. If I was from Mexico, I would not come to Arizona because there's the hostility."
The immigration bill isn't the only grief heaped on Arizona's clean, white dinner plate. There's also a law banning courses that promote "racial resentment" in public schools [see “Erasing Ethnic Studies”] and a measure targeting teachers with heavy accents. Are things as bad as they seem in Lemons' state? "Yes," he says. "There is a tremendous amount of hatred and ethnic tension." He's originally from North Carolina and also spent time living in Los Angeles before taking a job with the New Times seven years ago. "I would say Arizona is the most racist state I've ever lived in personally. I thought the South was bad when I left it." In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, North Carolina's tension was black/white, he says. "Here it's all brown/white. People are fed a steady diet of resentment toward what's popularly called 'illegals.' That term tends to be kind of a catchall for all Hispanics,” he adds. “You can't go wrong being a Republican politician and beating the anti-immigrant drum.”
Brown-skinned people should be wary of traveling in Arizona, Lemons acknowledges. "People who are brown-skinned in the state, they will have to face a level of scrutiny someone who is Anglo will not have to face because of the way the law is written. If cop has to stop you for any reason and has reasonable suspicion to suspect you're in the country illegally, he can check your status." The traffic stop is the most often used example scenario. After sharp criticism of the vague wording "legal contact" in the bill, it was changed to specify lawful stops, detention or arrests. But language was added to say an immigration check can come out of the enforcement of any municipal, city, state or county ordinance. "If a cop goes into a neighborhood and someone's weeds are too high, in the investigation of that stupid ordinance, he could start investigating someone's immigration status," Lemons says.
"If a cop goes into a neighborhood and someone's weeds are too high, in the investigation of that stupid ordinance, he could start investigating someone's immigration status."
Stephen Lemons, Phoenix New Times
This is not the first time Lemons has chased down stories of racial profiling in his area. The New Times has long covered the misdeeds of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, even before Lemons started dogging him a couple of years ago. Arpaio has done 15 anti-immigrant sweeps since the beginning of 2008, but the sheriff’s been rounding people up based on the color of their skin for years, Lemons says. Arpaio had an agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Bush administration that allowed him to deputize 160 officers. "He had this huge, basically federal army that he could go into Hispanic neighborhoods with." They would pull people over for minor infractions and then get to talking about immigration. (Sheriff’s deputies arrested New Times founders Editor Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin in 2007 on charges that a story they'd written revealed grand jury secrets. The paper said the investigation was retaliation for stories condemning Arpaio’s policies.) Things have changed somewhat under Obama, and the feds have been investigating the sheriff for more than a year.
Still, says Lemons, immigration is something the Obama administration doesn't want to deal with, especially not with elections approaching. "On the one hand, I don't think the feds want what's going on in Arizona. On the other hand, they helped foster the situation."
The intense Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric wasn't always so loud in Arizona, Lemons says. Immigration used to be a wedge issue for the party, as many of its members run businesses that rely on undocumented workers. "Republicans were not as nativist as they are now in the state," he says. But Lemons says there was an "ethnic McCarthyism" creeping into Arizona's Republican Party. "Prior to this being passed, if anyone stuck their head above water and criticized all this stuff, they were labeled as being 'pro-illegal.' And that's not a label any politician wants to be branded with." SB 1070's sponsor, state Sen. Russell Pearce, accumulated a lot of power during his many years in the Legislature. Versions of this measure were put forth in the past. But former Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, struck down the more controversial parts of the legislation. With Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, the floodgates opened, Lemons says. Brewer's up for re-election this year. By signing SB 1070, she made a "hard political calculation. She almost instantly got a bump in the polls by the bill. She probably knows it's not good for the state, but it's good for her political career."
When SB 1070 was being heard in the House a few months ago, few attended the committee meetings, Lemons says. "The place was not packed. I was screaming my head off saying, This is going to be bad, and, This is going to pass. The situation was ripe for it." Slowly, as the measure moved forward, people began crowding the Legislature.
Voices against these laws are accumulating. A few weeks ago, nine college students chained themselves to the Arizona capital door. The police came with bolt cutters and arrested them. "At the time, they were completely silent. They didn't say anything. There was a crush of reporters around them. They took them to a back room by themselves to wait for their legal representatives to show up, and they began singing, 'We Shall Overcome.' ” Lemons was moved by that, he says. In all his years covering the sheriff, he's never seen people putting their bodies on the line in civil disobedience. "That was the step where I thought, OK. Maybe we've crossed the Rubicon. Maybe we're going to see people come here and be willing to be arrested in opposition to this law."